Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Night at the Lyric

Despite being a college town, Blacksburg, VA isn’t exactly known as a hot bed of live music outside of Virginia Tech's music department. At one point in time, there were several great places to catch live music on a weekly basis. The stage at the South Main Café would frequently host groups like the Dave Matthews Band, REM, The Pietasters, Hootie &TBF, The Kind and so on before they hit the big time. This stage is long gone and the building (originally a church built by slaves, for slaves) now hosts a fish taco stand. Other venues have come and gone through the years with the popular form of “live music” in the bar setting these days coming from a DJ’s mixing board. I blame the influx of urbanite students from Northern Virginia and New Jersey for the uprising in demand for two turn tables and a microphone. All is not lost. We still have a few places that host a bring your own instrument mountain jam night and open mic nights as well.

One place the bucks the trend in this town is the Lyric Theatre. Once an eyesore for the town, and on the verge of being condemned in the early 1990's, a group of volunteers decided to restore the building and bring back some life to the theater. The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets took on the renovation as a service project and monetary support from the community started flowing in. A couple of years after work started, the silver screen started showing movies again. Back around 1998, a local musician and student, Dylan Locke, wanted to bring big name acts to the stage of the Lyric so he set out to find some. Nine years later, he has brought in performers like Doc Watson, Sam Bush, Junior Brown, Derek Trucks, Mike Marshall, Joan Baez, Del McCoury and Bela Fleck. He’s also expanded his concert promotion in Southwestern Virginia to include the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Sun Music Hall and FloydFest, both in Floyd. One month from today, on March 18, he brings two bands to the Lyric that have ties to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Old School Freight Train calls Charlottesville home and Larry Keel resides to the west, near Natural Bridge.

"After forty years of recording acoustic music, it's not very often that a new band catches (and keeps) my attention. Old School Freight Train has done that and more. Their finely crafted tunes and innovative arrangements bring creativity, taste and wit to a broad spectrum of contemporary styles - vocal and instrumental, all firmly rooted in many traditions. They are certainly an emerging force to reckon with in today's wide world of acoustic music.” Those are the words of David Grisman, pretty high praise coming from the master of the mandolin. Since Grisman was first introduced to the group, he has invited OSFT to record an album on his label and go on tour with him. Their music varies from traditional to Celtic to progressive newgrass stylings.

Larry Keel adds his growling voice, poetic songwriting and flat picking genius to the show. Keel has performed with and written songs for numerous bluegrass and newgrass jam band legends, most notably in 2005 when the Del McCoury Band won a Grammy for their album The Company We Keep, featuring Keel’s Mountain Song. He’s been a featured performer from Merlefest to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Keel brings his band, Natural Bridge, to the stage with him this night. Their styling is more traditional bluegrass music in the mold of the forefathers of mountain music.

Tickets go on sale on Monday, February 19. There’s no doubt that the music starved citizens of Blacksburg will gobble these up quickly so make plans to visit the box office or web site early this week if you want to be a part of this performance.

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